Last month, Kris Mitchell made history, becoming FIU’s single-season leader in receiving yards.
This month, after he officially entered into the NCAA’s Transfer Portal, he visited Notre Dame as he weighs the next stop of his burgeoning career.
Such is life in college football in 2023.
“Had a Great Visit to South Bend this weekend! #Goirish,” was Mitchell’s words on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday, a post complete with photos of him donning a Notre Dame uniform.
While he has yet to make his decision about where he will transfer as an FIU graduate, one thing is for sure. He’s bringing an impressive resume to the table when he talks to coaches.
The fifth-year senior topped his historical season with 1,118 receiving yards. And with the Panthers not headed to a bowl game, that number will headline the record books for at least 11 more months.
But it took a fair share of highs and lows for Mitchell to get to that milestone. As an incoming freshman in 2019 out of Jacksonville, Mitchell weighed just 150 pounds, and was overlooked by multiple FBS programs. According to 24/7 Sports, Mitchell was ranked as the No. 207 best receiver in his prospect class.
“That’s why I didn’t have many (scholarship) offers,” Mitchell said. “Teams were worried about my size.”
Learning from a veteran wide receiver group in his freshman campaign with the Panthers, Mitchell redshirted in 2019 and hoped to make a name for himself in 2020, before tragedy struck closely in his football life. In August of that year, Mitchell’s wide receiver coach, Aubrey Hill, passed away due to cancer.
“He believed in me years before anybody else offered me,” Mitchell said. “He saw something in me. He knew I was going to be a great player.”
However, Mitchell used his loss to build trust and belief in himself to keep working. He appeared in four of the Panthers’ five games in 2020, during the COVID-19-shortened schedule, including two starts.
In 2021, Mitchell improved to a career-high 10 games. He had nine receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown, yet was part of a team that only won one game before coach Butch Davis stepped down.
“I didn’t think he was going to leave,” Mitchell said. “He’s a legendary coach. I miss him.”
Yet, with questions looming about playing time and a new coach coming to FIU’s MMC campus, Mitchell decided to stay put and be a part of the new era under Mike MacIntyre, who was hired in December 2021.
“I’ve been here for four years now and ever since Coach Mac came in, he’s been pushing family,” Mitchell said. “And when it comes down to the game, that’s all that matters.”
In the first year of the MacIntyre era, all eyes were on Mitchell for a breakout season. In the 2022 opener against Bryant on Sept. 1, Mitchell rang up a pair of touchdowns and 80 receiving yards.
When it was all said and done that season, he had 348 yards and four touchdowns, all career highs for the redshirt sophomore.
“First thing you notice about Kris is his speed. He is a good guy to be around, and he just kept working,” FIU wide receivers coach Jay MacIntyre said this offseason. “Kris has a skill-set to be dominating in his time here.”
That all came into fruition this season. After the departure of then single-season receiving yards records leader Tyrese Chambers, Mitchell was slotted as the main target in the Panthers’ receiver core. Throughout spring camp, Mitchell added 23 pounds of weight, and now weighs in at 183.
“I’m pretty sure now he’ll be able to stay flying the whole game,” Mike Macintyre said in April. “I look for him to take a big leap this year as a stronger target.”
That was the case for the redshirt junior, who authored a career year and finished as one of the top wideouts in the NCAA’s Group of 5. Mitchell is just the third FIU Panther — TY Hilton and Chambers are the others — to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and his seven touchdowns were third-most in FIU history. He also finished the regular season in the top 15 in the nation in receiving yards.
On national television last month, in a loss to Arkansas, he caught six passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. The Nov. 18 game was FIU’s largest stage of the season against an opponent from the SEC. Facing a Razorbacks defense that has players who could end up in the NFL, Mitchell garnered even more headlines.
The following week, he and the Panthers lost, 41-28, to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, concluding their season at 4-8.
“It was always a goal of mine to go get (the receiving record),” Mitchell said. “I will remember this moment forever.”
And now, with a pitstop at Notre Dame, or another Power 5 school, Mitchell still has his long-term goal of playing on Sundays intact.
“My mindset is to go play in the NFL. That’s my dream,” Mitchell said. “The plan is to go play in the NFL.”
Wherever he lands, one thing is for sure. The once-150-pound freshman will always stand proudly at the pinnacle of FIU football history, a testament to the indomitable spirit that can turn dreams into triumphant reality.